January 27th
IC3i Interviews Visual

IC3i Alumni Interview #8: Sandra Currás Alonso

Discover the IC3i Alumni’s professional paths in our series of interviews.

Sandra Currás Alonso

Sandra, what were you doing before your PhD at Institut Curie?

My pursuit for higher academia kicked off with bachelor’s in biochemistry and molecular biology from my hometown, Bilbao in Spain and afterwards I did my master’s in molecular biotechnology from the University of Barcelona. Before beginning my PhD journey in Curie, I stayed for one year working in industry because I wanted to experience how science happens outside of academia.  Right after my master’s, I joined a start-up and later moved to a big pharma company, and this is where I decided that what I really wanted to do was research. And the next thing you know, I was in Curie, pursuing my PhD!


How exactly working outside of academia motivated you for the PhD?

So, as I mentioned, right before my PhD, I was working in a pharmaceutical company and there I really enjoyed the environment. But, I realized that I really needed to go further in the experimentation part - in designing protocols or in analyzing the results - whose scope was limited in the position I had in industry. So that's when I started to look for opportunities of PhD outside of Spain because I wanted to have a new experience outside the country and that’s when I stumbled upon the IC3i program and went for the project that suited me the most.


What was your PhD about?

 My doctoral research focused on understanding how the lung responds to radiation therapy at the single cell level. So, I have been using techniques such as single cell RNA sequencing and spatial transcriptomics to understand the underlying processes. I was a part of the Telomeres and Cancer team of UMR3244 under the supervision of Dr. Arturo Londoño-Vallejo and Dr. Charles Fouillade.


Did you apply for any other program other than IC3i?

Actually, I did not apply to any other program. I had two other programs in mind, one in Germany and the other in Vienna, Austria. But, they were for ‘just in case’ situation, you know, as a backup.


In one word, how would you describe your PhD journey?




It was a four-year long project, so you have many ups and downs. There are times when you are super motivated, and everything works and you want to do more and more experiments and there are other times in which maybe things are not going that great or maybe you are just not motivated because of the long duration of the project. So, sometimes, you don't feel as excited as you were at the beginning. But in this rollercoaster ride, there were many more ups than downs, at least in my case.


How was your experience being a part of the IC3i program?

For me, the IC3i program was the best, in the sense that it was very well organized. For the interviews, we were already invited to the institute, so there you have the sense of getting to know all the other candidates that one day might be your colleagues. And so, when I arrived in Paris in September, I already knew some people. We were all living in the same place, we were all having the same introduction activities and all working in the same environment, so after one week, I could really feel that I had some friends and people that were sharing similar interests. Now, they are my close friends here in Paris and they have been my friends for the past five years. The program also mandated us to participate in other activities, that we were kind of forced to do but it's nice. We also had the opportunity to go to conferences, doing many courses and activities outside of the mundane PhD routine, which really makes one grow.


Outside academia, how was your life in Paris?

(Reminiscing the good old days…) Outside academia, life in Paris was amazing. I was very lucky because from the first week I had these other twelve people that were in the same situation than me and we became very close, so they have been kind of my family here in Paris. We have done so many things every weekend because Paris is a city where you can find almost anything to do. Every weekend, there was something to do. Also, every now and then, we were going on trips and so we have been visiting many other places in France and outside. We also organized some retreats with Institut Curie. So, in short, I enjoyed every bit of it!


So, you got your degree now… how does your journey forward look like?

 I defended my PhD in September 2021. After that, I stayed in the lab for a year as a postdoc to finish the paper and different collaborations. Now, I will start a new position as a scientist in Sanofi, a pharma company, in two weeks. So, I'm very happy because I really wanted to get a new position in a different environment and outside of academia and this will be a scientist position directly related to my PhD - with single cell and spatial transcriptomics in the field of oncology. (Smiling) I am very excited about it!


Finally, what advice would you like to give the freshers who are embarking / about to embark on the same journey as you?

I have two pieces of advice to give. Firstly, enjoy the journey. I think this is something which was very clear for me from the very beginning. When you start, it looks very long - because it's for three to four years, but at the end you really need to enjoy it because one day it will be over, and you will regret if you didn't do all the things you wanted to do. So, enjoy the PhD journey both inside and outside. I mean not everything is work and I think having a balance with the life outside of work makes it easier to have a happy life during your PhD and not get overstressed. And the second advice is start writing your thesis earlier. It’s never too early to start!


Interview conducted by Ayan Mallick, January 2023.